Bye-Bye Saab

By Eric Peters, Automotive Columnist

There will be no bailout for Saab – and so, no bailout for Saab owners.

Sweden’s other automaker, formerly an appendage of GM, recently filed for bankruptcy liquidation – not reorganization. It no longer builds cars and no longer intends to build cars. There will be no 2013 Saabs – no more new Saabs, period.

And so, no warranty-covered repairs, either.

If you own a post-GM Saab – which means 2010, 2011 and 2012 model Saabs – look down because you are holding the bag. Saab dealers are no longer being reimbursed for repairs to these cars, which would normally be covered under warranty, because the parent company, Saab, has no money to reimburse them with and more, barely exists anymore other than as a name on legal documents.

This doesn’t mean Saab dealers are going away – or that you won’t be able to get your Saab repaired. It does mean you will be paying for all repairs – including repairs that would otherwise have been covered by Saab the company.

Owners of ’09 and older Saabs, which were built under GM’s auspices, can breathe easier because GM will still cover the nut for warranty-related repairs to these vehicles.

However …

It’s also likely that many Saab dealers will close shop, especially if they are not multiple-brand dealers – which could mean it’ll be harder to find a shop willing (able, really) to properly service your car. Saabs are quirky and like any import brand (and more so, a low-volume niche brand) need Saab-specific tools and skills/training to service properly – as well as Saab parts.

And the supply of parts is probably going to dry up – especially trim/body parts and any parts such as controls and electrical stuff that are Saab-specific, if there’s not sufficient market demand for an aftermarket supplier to step in. And that assumes an aftermarket supplier will be able to acquire the rights to produce the parts, too. Which they may not – at least, not until after the lawyers get through gnawing the corpse. And that could take years.

For Saab owners, the liquidation of Saab is as much a disaster as it is for Saab itself. In addition to the potential repair/upkeep hassles and the loss of warranty coverage, depreciation is going to be epic. A 2011 9-5 bought six months ago for $40,000 is probably now worth about $25,000 – if not yet, it will be soon as the word gets out and the Blue Badged Dragon becomes a pariah brand.

Don’t get into a wreck, either.

The combination of massive depreciation and increasingly scarce parts is probably going to result in a much reduced “total it” threshold. The usual practice is to junk the car when the cost of repairs is expected to approach 50 percent of the car’s current fair market value. That threshold is crossed sooner when the car is valued around $20k vs. $40k. Or when it’s just impossible to get parts for the thing – including replacement body and trim panels, which is likely to become a problem for the last-of-the-line Saabs. Especially the last 9-5, which was all-new last year (2011) and of which very few have been produced (as of late 2011, fewer than 1,000 of these had been sold in the entire United States).

It sucks all around.

I hate to see Saab go out this way. Saabs were different – a rare thing in this increasingly homogenized marketplace. I will miss the Night Panel display, which let you toggle off all the lights and gauges (except the speedo). Did it serve any real purpose? Not really. But it was cool and no one else had it. Ditto the ignition key in the console, which may not have been the best place for it but which, again, was something different. The final Saab also had an aviation-inspired “altimeter” speedometer that was extremely cool.

Most of all, though, Saabs drove differently. Or rather, they expected you to drive. The high-pressure turbo 2.0 liter engine in the last 9-5, for example, was peaky and fierce – like an old-two stroke motorcycle. You had to keep it on the right side of the powerband, which meant, paying attention to throttle inputs and what gear you had the transmission in.

Sometimes, it was necessary to drop down two gears instead of one – but if you enjoy driving vs. passively sitting there, sail fawn glued to your ear, eyes glazed over in suburban consumerist stupor, this was fun.

Saab also let you hear the turbo as well as feel it. A high-pitched whistle pierced the cabin as the pressure built up, like an old 707 (remember?) with real jets hanging off each wing on its take-off roll. The green backlit altimeter further set the mood.

It’s too bad – and it’s sad.

For Saab owners, for Saab itself – and for the car business, which becomes noticeably more two-dimensional with the passing of the brand.


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